SpaceX made 6 major changes to its spaceship and rocket to be ready to launch its first full crew of NASA astronauts

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SpaceX is ready to send its first full astronaut crew into space for NASA, on a launch system newly certified for human spaceflight. The Falcon 9 rocket is upright on the launchpad, a Crew Dragon spaceship secured firmly to its nose. The engines have been test fired. Four astronauts are anxiously waiting for the countdown — launch is scheduled for Sunday at 7:27 p.m. ET.

Since SpaceX’s first human launch, a demonstration that rocketed NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS), the company has ironed out several wrinkles with its system.

In that mission, called Demo-2, the Crew Dragon spaceship’s fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere wore away its protective shield more than expected. Its parachutes also deployed a little late, and then boats full of spectators swarmed the toasted capsule once it landed. Additionally, a few weeks after the astronauts returned, another Falcon 9 launch revealed that a nail-polish-like substance was clogging up vents in the engines.

NASA and SpaceX have worked quickly to correct these malfunctions, adapt their processes, and upgrade the hardware. As a result, the upcoming mission, called Crew-1, is going to look different from Behnken and Hurley’s.

“We’re flying a lot of upgrades on this flight compared to Demo-2,” Steve Stich, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a briefing on Tuesday. “So we continue to evolve and be safer as we move toward these flights.”

Here’s how SpaceX changed its system.

Checking tiny holes for nail-polish-like buildup

SpaceX was set to launch a routine satellite mission on October 2, but seconds before liftoff, a flight computer sensed an issue and automatically shut everything down.

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The problem turned out to be in the Falcon 9’s Merlin engines: A tiny hole on a relief valve had gotten clogged with a lacquer used to cover certain parts of the rocket while a treatment to prevent corrosion gets applied to other areas. This could have resulted in an explosion that would have rattled and damaged the engines — like a car backfiring.

So SpaceX examined all its engines for similar remnants of the nail-polish-like substance.

“SpaceX and the NASA team looked across the launch vehicle for any other areas that might have a small passage that could get blocked by this similar masking process. And we cleared all that hardware,” Stich said.

Separately, the engines also have new bladed, jet-engine-like turbine wheels that pump in the liquid fuel. The upgrade makes the wheels less prone to vibrations called “resonances,” which can damage hardware.

“These wheels are a little bit more robust to the kind of throttle profile that the Merlin engines fly,” Stich said. “So we’re happy to have that as a safety upgrade.”

New, long-lasting solar panels

The crew of the upcoming mission, called Crew-1, consists of NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. They’re slated to dock to the space station around 11 p.m. ET on Monday after a 27-hour journey. After that, they’ll spend …read more

Source:: Businessinsider – Tech


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